In this morning’s Gospel, from Luke 11:29-32, Jesus mentions the “Sign of Jonah”:
Pieter Lastman, Jonah and the Whale (1621)
When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nin′eveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation. The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nin′eveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
There’s a three-fold meaning to that sign:
- It’s a prophesy about the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish, and then returned to the earth (Jonah 1:17), prefiguring the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus makes this connection pretty explicitly in Matthew 12:40.
- It’s a prophesy about the destruction of Jerusalem, forty years after the rejection of Christ. Jonah’s message to Nineveh was, “Yet forty days, and Nin′eveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). Christ warns the people of Jerusalem of their wickedness (including in Luke 11:29, above), and says that the Temple will be destroyed (Matthew 24:1-2). Jerusalem doesn’t convert, and forty years after the death of Christ, Jerusalem (including the Temple) is destroyed by the Romans. This also fulfills Psalm 95:10-11.
- It’s a prophesy about the salvation of the Gentiles, and the resentment that this will cause. When the Ninevites repent, God has mercy upon them (Jonah 3:10). Jonah resents this, because they’re Gentiles (Jonah 4:1). When the same mercy is offered the Gentiles in Acts 10, it leads to the same resentment amongst some of the Jewish believers (Acts 11:1-3).